, ,

We’ve talked some this semester about public relations, and how to educate student journalists about the devious methods and motives of those who practice this nefarious art.

Fair enough. But as a former practitioner, wife of a public affairs officer and daughter of a veteran publicist, I’d like to state for the record that public relations is not always spelled E-V-I-L.

My first job out of college was for a small advertising and public relations agency. Our clients included small hospitals and a nonprofit group lobbying for a safety-belt law in West Virginia. On their behalf, I helped run booths during community events and dressed up as a crash-test dummy. I was, and still am, proud of these efforts to promote health and safety issues. And for the record, safety-belt legislation was passed in Almost Heaven.

My husband, John, is one of those former journalists who has entered the public relations world as a result of the newspaper industry’s struggles in recent years. He now works for a nonprofit medical society, where he writes and edits newsletters and handles media relations. The society focuses on major public health issues such as H1N1, HIV/AIDS and immunization, just to name a few. It’s “honorable work” that John, a former health-care reporter, feels good about when he comes home at night. What I’ve found especially interesting is that he fields far more reporter calls than he makes.

There’s no doubt that my attitude toward public relations was most profoundly influenced by my mother, Pat. I remember drifting off to sleep as a child lulled by the sounds of her typewriter. She claimed I used to beat on it with my tiny fists when I felt I wasn’t getting enough of her attention.

Mom’s career as a publicist began with an effort to collect enough Top Value trading stamps to earn a station wagon for nuns who taught at a local Catholic grade school. “Franciscan Friends for a Ford” was a rousing success. Over the years, her clients included the West Virginia Veterans Memorial Commission (established to raise funds for a Vietnam memorial at the state capitol), one of the state’s most highly regarded judges, a community concert association and Keep a Child in School. She also donated her talents to the church we attended and to numerous arts organizations.

I left the advertising/PR agency for a job at my hometown newspaper. In my 15 years there, I did plenty of eye-rolling at flacks who inflicted upon me bad pitches and worse press releases. But I also valued those PR practitioners who answered my calls promptly, helped me connect with sources and provided unique angles on stories that had to be written year after year after year.

God bless flacks.